Length: 2 hrs 21 mins (Theatrical Version) 2 hrs 36 mins (Director’s Cut)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: AVC (@ an average 20 mbps)
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 4.0 mbps, up to 5 mbps in the big scenes)
Spanish DTS 5.1
French DTS 5.1
English DVS (Descriptive Visual Service) 2.0 (Theatrical Version Only)
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: PG-13 (Violence, Including Intense Scenes of Warfare, Some Sexual Content)
Unrated Director’s Cut (More Violence than the PG-13 version)
Release Date: September 21, 2010
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Mark Addy, Oscar Isaac, Danny Huston, Eileen Atkins and Max von Sydow
Screenplay by: Brian Helgeland
Produced by: Brian Grazer, Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Film Rating: 2 ½/5
Robin Hood is a curious experience indeed, and it’s really nothing like what I was expecting after having seen the trailers for the film. Ostensibly, the movie is a new telling of the origin of the man who would become Robin Hood, starting with his experiences returning from the Crusades with Richard the Lionheart. But if you were to rely on the trailers and the publicity for this film, you’d very likely be expecting a more traditional tale of Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, and otherwise showing up the usually inept Sheriff of Nottingham. And given the participation of Russell Crowe in the lead role and Ridley Scott in the director’s chair, you’d likely be expecting a Gladiator-esque treatment of the material. I can safely say now that you’ll be correct in the latter assumption and way off on the former assumption. While there is a small amount of fun with Robin Hood and his Merry Men pulling off one caper, much of this film is quite serious. (And if you ever have doubt about the seriousness of the proceedings, Marc Streitenfeld’s score will come in with appropriately epic or somber instruments to remind you…) I’m honestly not sure what to make of what I have seen here. The film is beautiful to see, its plentiful budget fully on display on the screen in the lovely photography, the seamless CGI work, the massive battle sequences, etc. Many of the performances here are solid – especially Cate Blanchett and William Hurt. Ridley Scott’s direction is as assured as ever, even if he knowingly lifts some riffs from the earlier Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and, as expected, from Gladiator. The fact is, there is nobody more talented in working with films of this scale today than Ridley Scott, and he leaves no doubt about that in his staging of multiple large-scale battle scenes and his ongoing attention to the most minor details of the worlds he creates onscreen. And yet…I simply wasn’t carried away by this film. I admit, I watched the longer Director’s Cut, which contains a fair amount of violence I seriously doubt could get past a PG-13 rating, but which also contains an additional 15 minutes of length for a film that was already too long. There are many places where the movie simply crawls along. It takes over an hour for our heroes to even get back to Nottingham in the first place, and once they get there, it’s another interminable amount of time before we see them starting to figure out what their role there will be. And once you have a handle on that, the big climactic battle material starts and we’re off to the wars again for another half hour. Now, by the end of the whole affair, we’re back to the material of the theatrical trailer and the very end of the film suggests that a possible sequel may well be closer to the more lighthearted swashbuckling that Robin Hood fans would expect from the title.
It’s clear that Russell Crowe (here working as a producer as well as the lead actor) and Ridley Scott intended a grittily realistic take on this story, channeled through the style they used on Gladiator. And in many ways, the film succeeds in showing us a medieval world with all the dirt and mud still on its shoes. There is a strong sense of verisimilitude, if you will. But then there are inexplicable choices and lapses. Maid Marion here is a much more independent and strong-willed person than the time period would realistically allow. The Nottingham of this film seems to be completely destitute due to raiding by young outlaws in the woods, and yet when we meet the outlaws and their leader, they appear more destitute than the village. Further, we are meant to believe that Marion somehow understands and condones their behavior, even when we have seen her at odds with the outlaws early in the film. (This may sound confusing, but when you see the film, you’ll see what I mean…) And then we have the whole climactic battle with the French, which pulls the whole story away from where one would think its focus should be – with the people of Nottingham. By the very end of the film, the feeling is almost as if one has seen a long shaggy dog tale, with a punchline that one can see coming over an hour earlier in the proceedings. So I can’t say in all honesty that this is truly a “Robin Hood” film by any sense of that idea. If anything, it’s more of a “Gladiator Hood” film, albeit with a somewhat sunnier outlook. As Russell Crowe points out in the making-of materials, this film uses the same style as Gladiator to different ends. Where Gladiator was essentially about the death of a soldier, Robin Hood is about how a soldier finds a new life. In summary, I’d say it’s less accurate to call this film Robin Hood than perhaps to think of it as Robin Begins. Given the international box office success of this film (and the likely DVD and Blu-ray success), I think it’s quite possible that Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe may have another go at this material. And perhaps the next time, we’ll get to see a little more Flynn and a little less Maximus.
Robin Hood will be released on standard definition DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday. The Blu-ray edition is a triple-decker. The Blu-ray disc holds solid high definition picture and sound transfers of both the theatrical version and the director’s cut, along with a fair amount of extras, including an hourlong making-of documentary, over ten minutes of deleted scenes, a collection of trailers and TV spots, and a “Director’s Notebook” feature that provides making-of material at each chapter stop along with galleries of photos and Ridley Scott’s “Ridleygrams”. Further Blu-ray functionality is also part of the package, including pocket BLU, My Scenes, an online ticker and trailers, not to mention D-Box functionality, as well as some new ideas like uHear, which I’ll discuss more at length in the appropriate section of this review But that’s not all you get with the Blu-ray release. Universal has also included the first disc of the standard definition DVD of the film, andd a digital copy of the director’s cut on an additional disc. What you don’t get here is the usual Ridley Scott commentary – something I found perplexing, although I understand that the intention here was to focus on the “Director’s Notebook” instead.
VIDEO QUALITY 4 ½/5
Robin Hood is presented in a 1080p AVC 2.40:1 transfer that showcases the beautiful photography, the sumptuous production design and the intricate wardrobe materials on display, like chain mail and simple cloth fabrics. The blacks of the many nighttime scenes look solid here, and the many shades of green of the forest are a wonder to see. I’ve read some accounts of shimmering on the chain mail and armor here and there, but I honestly did not see issues of this. I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.
AUDIO QUALITY 5/5
Robin Hood is presented in a wonderful English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, along with standard DTS 5.1 mixes in French and Spanish. There is also an English Descriptive Visual Service track available, albeit only for the Theatrical version. This is, I believe, only the third time I have this high of a rating for a sound mix. I don’t take it lightly. This is a completely active mix, with the sounds of horses and atmosphere going through the surround channels as easily as the usual music cues. There’s also a fair amount of directionality here, and the subwoofer comes to life in all sorts of surprising ways. All in all, a thoroughly entertaining sound mix.
SPECIAL FEATURES 3/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of Robin Hood comes with the usual BD-Live connectivity and My Scenes functionality, as well as pocket BLU, D-Box functionality, and some new color-coded functionality. To this is added a decent assembly of extras, including an hourlong documentary, some deleted scenes, some stills galleries, a trailer collection and the “Director’s Notebook” functionality. The standard definition DVD of the film, and a disc with a Digital Copy of the director’s cut are also included in the packaging. This is fair amount of material, and yet I can’t help but miss the thorough and incisive audio commentary I have come to appreciate from Ridley Scott. I understand he made a different choice here, but as he’s one of the filmmakers who truly delivers on the commentary front, the absence of that here is regrettable.
Director’s Notebook – This feature is only available for the Theatrical Version, and once you activate it, you cannot make use of the usual pop-up menus, since the feature uses that functionality. This is not a continuous feature that goes throughout the movie. Instead, at the chapter breaks, the movie will shrink down to a panel at the left side of the frame. Another panel will appear below the movie with a still gallery, either of production stills, Ridley Scott’s storyboards (or “Ridleygrams”), or of other production material. And a third panel will appear to the right, which will include video of interviews with Ridley Scott, Brian Helgeland, Russell Crowe and the cast and crew, discussing various aspects of the film and the scenework on display at that point in the film. In some cases, they’re talking about specific characters, like King John or the Sheriff of Nottingham. In other cases, they’re talking about the logistics of mounting battle sequences like the climax on horseback in the surf. Much of this material appears to me to have been culled from what has been used to create the hourlong documentary, although there is very little overlap. There is also an option to access the stills galleries available elsewhere in the Special Features menus. The “Director’s Notebook” usually runs for a few minutes and then the movie proper refills the entire screen until the next chapter break. The final bit includes a wry note from Ridley Scott, recalling that he unknowingly came in under budget this time around by the time he was done filming…
Deleted Scenes – (12:26 Total plus 0:40 Introduction, 1080p) Ten deleted scenes and scene extensions are presented here in 1080p picture and English 2.0 sound by editor Pietro Scalia, along with an introduction by him to this section. The scenes can be viewed with or without his commentary, and can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” option. Most of the material here is additional character scenework, including a nice moment between Cate Blanchett and Max von Sydow. But pretty much every time you can clearly see why these scenes were deemed unnecessary and wound up on the cutting room floor.
Rise and Rise Again: Making Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood – (1:02:41, 480p, Anamorphic) This hourlong documentary is presented in standard definition with English 2.0 sound. It’s broken into three parts which can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” option. The first part, “Ballad, Legend & Myth: Pre-Production” (18:06), details the screenplay history of this project, from its beginnings as a script called “Nottingham” by the creators of the Showtime series “Sleeper Cell”. This caught the attention of both Brian Grazer and Russell Crowe, who then enlisted Ridley Scott to direct the film. It’s clear that neither Crowe nor Scott were happy with the original script, and their choice at that point was to hire Brian Helgeland to write a completely new script about the character. (Crowe refers to the original script as “CSI: Sherwood Forest”…) There is also a fair amount of material about the planning and production design work that went into the various sets and locations. The second part of the documentary, “The More, The Merrier: Production” (29:28), details the on-set work of making the film. Much of the time is spent talking about how the Merry Men were assembled from recommendations by Crowe, and how they worked together. A bit of time is spent on the archery training given to the cast, and to how this played out on set. The final section of the documentary, “No Quarter Given: Post-production” (15:07), covers the editing and scoring work done by Pietro Scalia and Marc Streitenfeld, respectively. Scalia admits that when they started editing the film, it was running 3 ½ hours, meaning that they had to remove over an hour of footage just to get to the theatrical version. Ridley Scott spends some time praising both Scalia and Streitenfeld’s work.
The Art of Nottingham – This is a collection of four sets of galleries, some of which can also be seen as part of the “Director’s Notebook” feature. Each gallery is divided in terms of either characters (for the wardrobe), sets (for the production design) or scenework (for storyboards and on-set photos). The first set is “Pre-Vis/Storyboards”, and it includes a plentiful amount of Ridley Scott’s “Ridleygrams” for multiple sequences. The second set is “Production Design”, and it includes a video introduction by Production Designer Arthur Max, and then collections of design sketches, schematics, diagrams and then photos of the completed items and location work. The third set is “Costumes”, and it includes a video introduction by Costume Designer Janty Yates, and then design sketches and on-set continuity photos of the wardrobe as worn by the actors. The final set is “Behind the Scenes Photos”, and it includes a generous amount of on-set photos of Ridley Scott and the crew at work on the set. (These photos are the bulk of the images shown as part of the “Director’s Notebook.”)
Marketing Archive – (7:18 Total, 1080i) Two theatrical trailers and six TV spots are included here in 1080i high definition picture and 2.0 sound. The TV spots all run about 30 seconds each.
BD-Live - The more general BD-Live screen is accessible via the menu, which makes various online materials available, including tickers, trailers and special events.
My Scenes - The usual bookmarking feature is included here.
pocket BLU– The latest Blu-ray features of phone apps and social networking are included here for viewers with the right iPhones, Blackberries and other current hardware.
D-Box – D-Box functionality is included for viewers who have this capability in their home theater.
Two new ideas are also included as part of the Blu-ray functionality here: The first is uHear, which is an auto-reverse function that backs up the movie and turn on the subtitles if you hit the yellow button on your remote after not understanding a line of dialogue. I believe this will merely save you a step from the usual need to press rewind and hit the “subtitle” button… The second idea is an extension of the usual promotional ticker on the Main Menu. With the new idea, if you see a blue box on the ticker, you can hit the blue button on your remote, and you’ll be taken to a BD-Live screen explaining the item being offered. This color-coding works on my current remote since I’m watching the movie via a PS3, but I believe this will also work on all other Blu-ray player remotes.
DVD copy– The movie-only disc of the standard-definition release of this film is included in the Blu-ray packaging. It holds the theatrical and Director’s cuts of the film, accessed via seamless branching. The film is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (albeit at 448 kbps), as well as Spanish and French 2.0 mixes and the same English DVS 2.0 mix on the theatrical cut as can be found on the Blu-ray disc. There is a chapter menu, but no special features on this disc.
Digital Copy – A digital copy of the Director’s Cut of the film is included on a third disc in the packaging.
The film and special features are subtitled in English, French and Spanish. The usual pop-up menu is present, along with a complete chapter menu, although, again, these will not function when you are watching the “Director’s Notebook”. Further, when you first put the Blu-ray in the player, several trailers will load from BD-Live, which you can get past by hitting the “Next Chapter” button. It’s a random guess which trailers you’ll get each time, but my various loadings got me trailers for The American, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Devil, Somewhere, The Kids Are All Right, Get Him to the Greek Blu-ray, and the more general Universal Blu-ray trailer.
IN THE END...
Robin Hood is a film that frustrated me, in that it doesn’t quite fit the idea of its title, but it doesn’t completely take me on the journey to anywhere else either. It’s a combination of the approach of Gladiator with a more lighthearted sensibility, along with the approach of an origin story like Batman Begins. It’s handsomely produced, and beautifully crafted, but I’m not sure about the depth of the content here. There’s a bit too much drag here, and too many extraneous pieces that don’t add up to a coherent whole. But there are also some good performances and the usually detailed world of a Ridley Scott film. Fans of Scott and Russell Crowe are recommended to rent this before purchasing, particularly to check out the extras on the Blu-ray to learn a little more. This is one case where I truly miss the incisive commentary of Ridley Scott, and the far less encompassing “Director’s Notebook”, sadly, does not fill in this gap for me.
September 19, 2010.